Ginger Pop: Writing Tips from the Con Artist Writer
For reasons that I’m fuzzy on, I have of late been asked by a number of talented writers for tips on writing better. My first impulse is to say, “Ask someone who knows about writing.” Then I remember I’m supposed to know about writing. It says so on my grad school diploma. And my Twitter profile. I suppose that would give people the impression I know what I’m doing. Or maybe it was that plane I hired to skywrite: “I’m a writer and all the lame people from high school who keep trying to friend me on Facebook like they weren’t terrible human beings 16 years ago who made fun of my clothes and hair can SUCK IT.”
Here’s a secret between friends: most of the time I have no clue what I’m doing. My understanding of the actual rules of grammar is superficial at best. Although I publish some, it’s not often and I’m rejected more than accepted. I get stuck in funks where every sentence seems like a song stuck on repeat (Designing Women shout out: “Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours! Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours!”). Mostly I’m just a font of useless knowledge and descent vocabulary words.
Since I have sold the writer snake oil, I’ll throw out a few tips that can certainly do more good than harm.
- Read. The other day I was reading an article about how self-publishing is destroying bookstores and books in general. Publishing houses only want to publish big names that will guarantee a profit. Potentially the worst thing about this is that there are more writers than there are readers. Most people, no matter their profession, believe they have a book in them (I find this so true–whenever it gets out that I’m a writer, people want to tell me about this novel they want to write; I have been pitched some seriously terrible ideas and I don’t even have any power). Everyone wants to write, to put the stamp on their brand through a book, but less people want to read. I find that incredibly sad. So my first rule of writing is to read. Read novels, essays, short stories, news articles, books on writing, blogs on writing, blogs on blogging. Don’t be that lame person who doesn’t read but wants to write. We can’t be friends if you’re that guy and that would be tragic.
- Buy a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Read this book, look stuff up in it, use it until the pages are falling out and you have to buy a new copy. Another suggestion would be King’s On Writing where he also suggests Elements of Style. We’re both right. Go get it now. This post will be here when you get back. Got it? Great! Now for the hardest one . . .
- Write. Every. Day. Sounds easy enough, right? I’m not talking texts or replying to emails. No, I’m talking sit down and write something coherent that is not part of your daily correspondence. If you want to write fiction, write a mini story, a poem, a chapter, a paragraph–something every single day. Go back and rewrite. If that’s not your bag, you might consider blogging every day. There are many challenges at places like BlogHer that give prompts for daily blogging. Join the 365 project. However you do it, write every day. The example I give my students is this: if you’re a runner and you take two weeks off, you’re not going to perform as well. Same thing with writing. You want to make it part of your routine. Plus, it’s easy to write when you are inspired; it’s hard when you aren’t. Making it through those hard times makes you a better writer.
There you have it–three simple rules. I have other tips I can give you that are more specific and detailed, but those are good for a jumping off place. Have specific questions? Post them below.